Giddy up! Faster Horses ready to gallop after live music shutdown
Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean headline this weekend's three-day country music and camping festival at Michigan International Speedway.
This weekend's Faster Horses marks a massive turning point in the return of live music after the COVID-19 pandemic, and producer Brian O'Connell knows what he's looking forward to seeing most at the three-day country music festival.
"Smiles," says O'Connell, the president of country music touring for Live Nation. "I can't emphasize that enough. That, and the sun coming out. I can really go for that right now, too."
The forecast at Brooklyn's Michigan International Speedway notwithstanding — as of press time, Friday and Saturday call for storms, while Sunday should be partially sunny with a high of 82 degrees — the smiles among festivalgoers should be in abundance, rain or shine.
Faster Horses is the biggest concert event to hit Michigan since Garth Brooks played Ford Field in February 2020. The fest is set to draw around 40,000 fans and will feature headliners Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean, the same lineup that was slated to headline the event in 2020, before the pandemic sidelined it along with the rest of the live music industry.
Some 480-odd days after the shutdown — you better believe he has been counting — O'Connell is ready to get back to work and back to a sense of normalcy.
And at Faster Horses — pandemic aside, it's been a summertime staple in southeastern Michigan since 2013 — normalcy means rockin' music, cowboy boots, American flags and a big-time party atmosphere.
"What makes this event so important, I think, is the reconnection of not only the fans, but humans," says O'Connell, of fans' re-entry into the concert world. "I don't want to use the word free, but there's a release. You're not in your basement on a Zoom call."
O'Connell and his Faster Horses team were on plenty of Zoom calls as they waited out the pandemic and worked with state and local governments on protocols and contingency plans for fest's return. As Michigan began to open back up in mid-May, O'Connell posted a video on the Faster Horses Instagram page saying if the all-clear was given, the fest would go ahead as planned.
After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' lifted capacity restrictions for outdoor events, Faster Horses officially announced its return just before Memorial Day weekend with a message on social media stating "#WEBACK," which had the dual benefit of referencing Aldean's 2019 song "We Back."
Within 72 hours, the box office was buzzing.
"It took a couple days, and then it took off," says O'Connell, who spent a good chunk of the pandemic in his home in Three Rivers, on the state's west side, near the Indiana border. "It wasn't like the first day that we made the announcement we sold a gazillion tickets. It takes people a minute for a three-day festival with camping in Brooklyn, Michigan, to contact your buddies and get a plan. So I told everybody, 'just be patient.'"
Now that patience is set to pay off. Music kicks off at the fest at 1:15 p.m. Friday, when Sykamore plays the fest's Next From Nashville stage, and if past festivals are any indication, the party won't slow down until the wee hours of Monday morning.
O'Connell — known as BOC to the country music community — is ready for it all.
"I want to say 'hi' to everybody. I'm looking forward to opening the doors, I'm looking forward to seeing the artists and their crews, I'm excited for people who have never been here to join the family and I'm excited for the artists that have only heard this place to experience it," says O'Connell, who is already working on booking next year's Faster Horses. "And I'm really looking forward to when my team gets to exhale. We back. We did it. We're first. I love being first, buddy. It comes with a special set of circumstances and pressures and attention to detail, all three things I'm very adept at. But it's gonna be good."
Michigan International Speedway
3-day general admission passes $215, VIP passes $400-$650